Long: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s smile was better than a trophy

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. grimaced briefly, revealing just how tough it is to compete at Darlington Raceway. Add that this was his lone NASCAR start of the year and the challenge was even greater.

“It wasn’t a storybook win or anything like that,” Earnhardt said on pit road after placing sixth (he would be scored fifth after Denny Hamlin’s winning car failed inspection and was disqualified).

But then a smile emerged.

“It just feels good to be competitive,” said Earnhardt, who returns to his regular NBC Sports duties for Sunday’s broadcast of the Southern 500. “It feels good that everybody has a smile on their face.”

He then shared a story about the weekend, one of many that made this a special time to him. Earnhardt talked about working with his cousin, Danny Earnhardt, as his car chief this weekend.

“He (told) me during practice, “Man, it would be cool if me and you could race together every single week,” Earnhardt said as his smile widened.

So, while it wasn’t a win, Saturday’s Xfinity race still was something Earnhardt could walk away from feeling good.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. races under Chase Briscoe during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

He’s already said he would like to run in the Xfinity race next March at Homestead-Miami Speedway — the site of his final Cup start in 2017 — if Hellmann’s exercises the option on its contract to sponsor him in a race next year.

But even beyond that, how much longer can Earnhardt go running one national series race a year and remain competitive?

“I picked the hardest track,” Earnhardt said after wiping his brow.

“So maybe if I go someplace a little easier, I can do it a few more years. It’s really however long Hellmann’s want to do it. I don’t want to do more than one a year. I don’t think I do. I’ll do one a year until I’m wasting my time and everybody else’s. I feel like I did a good job today and I didn’t really feel like I wasted my team’s time. As long as I don’t feel like I don’t belong in there, I’ll keep doing it.”

The fans appreciated his effort, giving him the loudest cheers before and after the race.

“He’s the people’s champ,” Hamlin said. “I think a lot of Dale and Amy. I’m glad he still gets to play and have fun. I’d imagine if I had a race team, I’d want to do the same thing. I don’t know if I would choose Darlington if I was him, it’s a tough track. Goodness, it’s a big test. He ran fine out there. All the restarts, it didn’t look like he was timid at all on any of them. So, hopefully, he continues to run one or two here and there.”

Even for as challenging as Darlington was, Earnhardt enjoyed his day because he ran well. 

Earnhardt was reunited with longtime spotter T.J. Majors and after Earnhardt finished seventh in stage two, Majors asked his driver if he was having fun.

Earnhardt replied with an enthusiastic “Yeah, I’m having fun.”

This wasn’t a joyride, though. He spent part of his day racing Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe for position. After crossing the finish line, Earnhardt noted they could have used more grip before thanking his team for its effort.

For all the fun. realization hit Earnhardt.

“About halfway through the race, I was starting to remember all the reasons why I don’t do it anymore,” he said. “It’s hot. It’s hard. It’s hard.

“What I’m really reminded of when I get to do these races is just how much we ought to respect the drivers that do it every single week because it is so hard. Not just driving the race but all the grind throughout the week, testing, debriefs, the study, watching races and film, there’s so much to it and it starts to pop in my head and I remember why I’m glad I’m not in that grind anymore. But just going practicing, qualifying and running the race, that’s fun.”

And then Earnhardt grinned.

While there was no trophy to take home, that smile showed what Saturday meant to Earnhardt.

Sioux Chief to sponsor ARCA Showdown, East Series to race at Nashville Fairgrounds

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ARCA announced Saturday that Sioux Chief Manufacturing will be the entitlement sponsor of its 10-race ARCA Menards Series Showdown in 2020.

Sioux Chief Manufacturing is a Missouri company that designs and manufactures rough plumbing products, parts, and accessories for residential, commercial, industrial and government applications

Sioux Chief has been involved in ARCA since 2015 as a race event sponsor and special awards program sponsor and sponsored ARCA’s former Short Track Challenge.

As part of the deal, a newly increased point fund, combined with race purses, owner plan, and contingency awards, will offer teams a chance to compete for a share of over $920,000 in posted awards throughout the series.

The Sioux Chief Showdown will bring together the best drivers from the ARCA Menards Series, the ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West, formerly known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Those events, held on oval tracks 1.25-miles in length and under and road courses, offer drivers who may not be able or eligible to run the full 20-race ARCA Menards Series schedule the opportunity to run for a championship. Combined with the overall ARCA Menards Series championship, and the East and West championships, drivers will have four separate championships to compete for in 2020.

The announcement was made at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis. Also present was promoter Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises, who announced that the ARCA Menards Series East would compete at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on May 2.

The Tennessean reported this week that the Nashville Fairgrounds was negotiating with Sargent to promote at least three races at the short track in 2020. Sargent’s involvement in the track comes after Nashville’s Fair Board voted to terminate its agreement with Formosa Productions to run the track over outstanding debt.

The ARCA Menards Series has competed at the Fairgrounds the last five seasons. The ARCA Menards Series East, formerly known as the K&N Pro Series East, competed there from 2007-08.

GMS Racing reveals full-time driver-crew chief lineup, number assignments

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GMS Racing has announced its full-time driver-crew chief lineup for the 2020 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season and number assignments for its trucks:

– Chad Norris has been named crew chief for Brett Moffitt and the No. 23 Chevrolet team. Moffitt drove the No. 24 in his first season with the team. Norris has been with GMS Racing for two years and directed the effort that delivered the team its 2018 Xfinity Series win at Talladega.

– Chad Walter will lead Tyler Ankrum and the No. 26 team. 2020 will be Ankrum’s first season with GMS Racing. Walter served as an engineer for Ankrum this season at DGR-Crosley. Walter has five wins and 42 top fives in 208 Xfinity Series starts as crew chief.

– Kevin “Bono” Manion is paired with Zane Smith on the No. 21 Chevrolet. 2020 will be Smith’s first full-time Trucks season after competing part-time for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. Manion has 24 wins as crew chief across all three national series since 2003. He led Martin Truex Jr. to his two Xfinity Series titles.

– Jeff Stankiewicz will remain as the crew chief for the No. 2 team piloted by Sheldon Creed.

Social Roundup: How NASCAR drivers are spending their offseason

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NASCAR’s Champion’s week is now behind us and we are firmly in the offseason.

Well, sort of.

The NASCAR world never really stops, which is evident simply due to the continued announcements for the 2020 season.

But with Joey Logano testing the Next Gen car at Phoenix earlier this week and Dale Earnhardt Jr. helping clean up North Wilkesboro Speedway for iRacing, it’s been anything but quiet.

Here’s a look at what else happened in the NASCAR community this week.

Someone needs to check in on Jimmie Johnson, he could be in his own version of Mr. Mom.

Chris Buescher is home again.

The 2015 Xfinity Series champion is back at Roush Fenway Racing for the 2020 Cup season and he’s got the firesuits and cars to prove it.

Brad Keselowski recently became father to a second daughter.

He’s now learning some important life lessons.

Former Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft is now off the market after getting married to his fiance, Jordan. Now they’re on their honeymoon.

 

Matt DiBenedetto showed off one of the perks of being a Wood Brothers Racing employee.

Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace went somewhere warm to start their holiday.

Joey and Caitlin Gase welcome twin sons

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Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase and his wife Caitlin are now parents to twin boys

The babies were born on Wednesday. Their names are Jace and Carson.

More: Brad and Paige Keselowski welcome second daughter